PEAK Meets Rakugo
A man dressed in kimono, sitting on the zabuton (Japanese cushion) acting out a story in Japanese and laughter fills the room, even amongst the PEAK students who are mostly non-native Japanese speakers.
On January 8th, 2013, Rakugo orator Sanyuutei Ryuraku came to the Komaba Campus to perform a Rakugo for the PEAK students as part of the Japanese course. Rakugo is a traditional Japanese verbal performance, in which the orator tells a story in front of a group of audience. They only use two tools, a sensu (fan) and a tenugui (handkerchief) to represent every prop that comes up in the story, meaning that some imagination is required for the audience. Moreover, as the Rakugo was performed in Japanese, as a native Japanese speaker, I was concerned that some students would not be able to understand the story. However, the amazing fact was that all the students were laughing at the same point in the story, meaning that they were able to understand not only the story itself, but also the humor of it.
So why were the PEAK students able to understand the humor of Rakugo? As Seo Jin Lee, a PEAK student from Korea pointed out, it was mainly the “facial expressions and the acting that were funny”. I personally also thought that the changes in tone and speed of the voices, as well as the gestures using the sensu and the tenugui, helped make the humor come across. As the two stories “Chotan” –(a story of a short-tempered man and a long-tempered man) and “Chiritotechin”- (a story of a man who is always polite and happy, and another man who pretends to know everything and is never satisfied) based the humor on the two contrasting characters, the way in which Ryuuraku san changed the tone and speed of the voice, facial expression and movement (i.e. gestures etc.) made it look as though there were actually two completely different characters. Therefore it was easy for the students to understand what the tenugui and the sensu represented, thus they were able to understand the plot and the humor of it.
From the fact that PEAK students were able to enjoy the humor of Rakugo performed in Japanese, I think that the importance of non-verbal communication tools in inter-cultural communication was emphasized. Therefore, we might want to make sure that we are not only trying to convey our message through words, but also through non-verbal communication tools, especially when communicating with people with different cultural backgrounds.